Just less than a month ago the New York Giants defense was a mess. The secondary was lost in a sea of confusion. The pass rush was non-existent. The linebackers were not making any plays. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell was under heavy fire from fans and the media, having gone from a guy who was a hot head-coaching commodity to guy fans wanted to put on the first bus out of town.
Then things changed. Since Fewell's unit get torched for a fifth straight game -- largely because of its own mistakes -- in a 23-10 loss to the Washington Redskins -- the group has been stellar. That work culminated in what really was a shutout Sunday, since Atlanta's only points came on a safety. The Giants stopped two fourth-and-less-than-one plays, covered well, held Michael Turner to 41 yards rushing on 15 carries and harassed Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan for the entire game.
"I think today we played outstanding defense and that set the tone for everything else that happened in the game," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin. "It was wonderful to see it and it has happened over the last two or three weeks of the season. If we can continue to play defense like that, we can make ourselves heard in this tournament."
The play of the last three weeks has probably quelled the notion that former Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo could be brought back to replace Fewell. Unless, of course, Fewell has again vaulted himself into the discussion for vacant head-coaching jobs around the league.
Listen to the praise Fewell got Sunday night following the victory over Atlanta:
"Perry is a terrific coordinator," Giants' general manager Jerry Reese said. "He's taken a lot of heat and that's what you do in this town, you take heat. It's what this town is all about and you have to relish the heat, and I think we do."
Defensive end Osi Umenyiora said Fewell "called the best game I think I've ever seen called."
That does not sound like Reese is inclined to replace Fewell. Unless Fewell leaves and forces him to by ending up as a head coach somewhere.
Part of the reason for the resurgence in the Giants' defense has to do with personnel, of course.
- Justin Tuck has returned to health, or at least as close to that as he is going to get this season, and is once again a force on the left side of the line.
- Osi Umenyiora has returned, and even though he may not be 100 percent he is still a pass-rushing force.
- Michael Boley is healthy again after missing time with a hamstring injury.
- Chase Blackburn has played well at middle linebacker, settling the defense. Why didn't the Giants save themselves a whole lot of aggravation and re-sign this guy early in the season when they had a chance. They were lucky no one else plucked him off the scrap heap.
Part of the reason for the resurgence, though, also has to with Fewell and what seems -- from the outside -- like his willingness to finally change his approach. NFL coaches are notoriously stubborn when it comes to changing the way they do things. While it took Fewell too long to make some of the adjustments we have seen the past few weeks he deserves credit for -- finally -- making them.
- Gone is all the crazy hand-waving and last-second coverage-changing in the secondary, at least most of the time. The Giants are, for the most part, lining up and playing. Fact is, they have pretty good players in the secondary and that is showing up.
- Along with that has been a little bit more man coverage, which especially allows Corey Webster to do what he does best.
- The three-man pass rush, what I always see as the Giants negating on purpose the pass rush their defense is built around, has largely vanished. The four-man rush has been a constant, and the five- and six-man rush has also been seen more often.
- One other thing about the disappearance of the three-man line. That has been an immense help to Jason Pierre-Paul. JPP is a monster no matter where the Giants put him on the line -- unless they line him up directly over center in a three-man line and allow opposing offenses to swallow him up with three blockers.
In short, Fewell deserves credit for getting out of the way and letting his players do what they do best. That might just help propel the Giants on another magical run.